LAS VEGAS, NV — The Ford Pinto isn’t for everyone.
Heck, EJ Fitzgerald of Cool Hand Customs didn’t even like the Pinto before he built this rad 1978 Pinto wagon for the SEMA Show. “Right before SEMA last year I was looking for our next build and, for some reason, no matter what search criteria I put in, this car came up,” Fitzgerald said. “My wife, Amy, kept seeing it and thought it was cool as hell, but I kept fighting it. I mean, who says they really want to own a Pinto. But, because it kept popping up, I went out there and met with the guy and actually ended up getting it for like 2,000 bucks.”
After looking at the finished product at the 2022 SEMA Show, we’re glad he did. Even better, we’re glad he reached out to Summit Racing to source parts for the build.
EJ admits that shortly after the build began, the Pinto began to grow on him.
“I really like doing the fabrication and the engineering to figure out how things are going to work,” he said. “Once I got into that, and you try to figure out how to get the motor in and what suspension to use, it becomes your baby really quick.”
Speaking of the motor, the entire drivetrain is from a 2014 Ford Mustang. That includes the 3.7L Cyclone V6, which proved to be one of the biggest challenges of the build.
“The Cyclone motor is really tall,” Fitzgerald said. “The first issue was getting the motor down far enough but still having clearance underneath. We kept whittling away at the crossmember until there was nothing left of it and then we realized we were going to have to rebuild everything on the front end. Nobody makes Mustang II front-ends for vehicles that actually came with a Mustang II suspension, so we got a Mustang II kit from Heidt’s that was for a ’40 Ford and modified that.”
Space was very tight in the engine compartment, so Fitzgerald opted to route the headers outside of the car and use a set of a Patriot Exhaust sidepipes. The rest of the drivetrain includes an 8.8 rear-end out of the ’14 Mustang. Fitzgerald cut off four inches from each end and had Moser make a set of short axles.
“Everything runs and drives like a ’14 Mustang, and it’s even got the Sport Mode.” he said.
The rear suspension was another area that provided a unique challenge.
“Heidt’s makes a rear suspension for a ’67 Mustang, and we started engineering that and putting it together and then realized, because it’s a wagon, the wheelwell setup was too far back,” Fitzgerald said. “The ’14 Mustang actually has a center link–a three link with a Panhard bar– so I just built our own center link off the tunnel in the middle and used the ’67 Heidt’s kit for the bars on the side.”
One thing that wasn’t a problem for Fitzgerald was the paint. His background in painting and airbrushing made that process fairly easy, especially since the wagon only had surface rust. He chose Summit Racing paint to give it just the right look.
“I’m usually not one to leave stuff alone, but it’s such and iconic paint job that came out of the factory, you just can’t change it,” he said.
Fortunately, the car came with a lot of the original small parts (along with two Neil Diamond 8-tracks) needed to complete the build.
“The hardest part was just trying to keep the vision of the car,” Fitzgerald said. ” It was trying to figure out what we were going to upgrade and what would take away from the car if we did upgrade it.”
In the end, the Pinto really endeared itself to the Fitzgerald.
“I actually really enjoyed working on it,” he said.
In fact, he plans to buy some new 8-tracks for a future cruises in the wagon!